Towards What New International?

Posted: April 11, 2011 in TANIT-Forum

TANIT Discussions:

5- Organisational Methods

Towards What New International?

critique of views of comrade JC

“Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavourable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian”. Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.

Great political defeats provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis strives to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their search for a ‘New World’. (my emphasis)

Leon Trotsky, “Stalinism and Bolshevism”. 29th August 1937.

Introduction

Comrade JC is apparently repulsed by “repetition of old phrases” by my writings, and as a comrade “with knowledge and experience”, his “intellect” has been insulted by the method used in my comments, that “method has predominated among those that call themselves Marxist for almost ninety years”. Then he calls for “enough”! of this type of discussion.

Well, I would like to express my profound apologies to comrade JC (and other comrades) and assure him that I had no intention of insulting his “intellect” (or any other comrade), specially those with “with knowledge and experience”. What I was intending to do, was simply to respond to the comments and questions of comrades, to the best of my ability, in order to achieve a common theoretical grounds to move forward to begin an analysis of objective situation of today’s situation and eventually jointly find a common action programme for a new international.

It is obvious in my mind, that unless we do not develop a common Marxist understanding on topics such as “transition from capitalism to socialism”, we will not be able to take the next logical step towards building an international. Also, in TANIT like any other forums and organisations, not all comrades have the same “knowledge and experience”. There is an unevenness that has to be overcomed. I expect comrades “with knowledge and experience” show some patience, and participate in discussions in orderly manner to overcome this unevenness. For example in the topic on “transition from capitalism to socialism”, it is essential to stress the central issue raised by Karl Marx regarding the nature of the state in this transition (i.e “the revolutionary dictatorship of proletariat”). When reading the good researched book written by comrade JC on China and nature of transition from capitalism to socialism, and find there is not even one word on the necessity of creation of “the revolutionary dictatorship of proletariat” in transitional period, I ask myself if I have made a grave mistake by introducing this “over 150 years old” theoretical concept into this TANIT discussion?

I would like to respond to comrade JC in mainly two stages. Firstly, to analysis what is his “new” proposals towards building socialism (its origin, effects and lessons up to today). Second, to respond to the content of his proposals and pose my humble and “old” counter proposals (during which I shall also respond to comrade Alex and Kate’s new posts). In present post, I shall deal with the first part and follow it up with second part in next post.

Part 1

Comrade JC’s “new” proposals

In order to learn from comrade JC’s “new” and “relevant” methods, and avoid using “almost ninety years” and “irrelevant” views and methods, we have to see how in practice his “new” and updated proposals do facilitate the transition from capitalism to socialism.

His proposals are as follows:

“Firstly, the reconstruction of the labour movement…..means building a unified political party to fight for the everyday political needs of the working class. The old social-democratic and ex-Stalinist parties will be at the centre of that process…for a broad workers parties….the need for a “vanguard party” is irrelevant to what the working class’ needs today.”

“Secondly, what is needed is to develop a clear and concrete idea about how a socialist society can be created today. That is the only way to begin rebuilding a socialist consciousness among a broad layer of the working class….Socialism as a goal is no longer part of general working class consciousness. And that at a time (the economic, ecological, and social criss!) when it is a dire necessity.”

The reason for these proposals are that:

“Under the leadership of liberals, all workers organisations risk being completely destroyed…..We must stop the liberal rot..”

In short, comrade JC proposes that because “all workers organisations risk being completely destroyed” under “liberals” (or more correctly he should use “neo-liberals”, as the main enemy of the working class which is “burning down” our “house”), we should enter “building a unified political party” with “old social-democratic and ex-Stalinist parties” and presumably all others groupings, to “stop the liberal rot”. We should not talk about “meaningless” idea (presumably discussions such as Marxist analysis of state in transition from capitalism to socialism) and should not “present ourselves as missionaries for the extremely distant “communism”, and to write about ‘revolution’ in general”, and some other “irrelevant” and “distance” issues such as “communism”, “socialism” and “vanguard party” which do not correspond to working class consciousness today.

In this regard, the questions to answer is the followings: Is ideas presented by comrade JC are “brand new” discussion (in comparison over 90 years old ideas) within working class movement? Have they been tested before? If so what lessons can be learnt from these “new” methods?

The old ideas in disguise of the “new”

I am sure a comrade “with knowledge and experience” such as JC should know that these ideas, at least in Europe, has been proposed and implemented over last decade (and beyond, over 60 years in one way or other shape and form by Ralph Miliband, NLR, SWP etc.). He also should be aware that most of this “new” projects have not taken the class struggle against capitalism, even one profound single step forward (in some cases they have had devastating effects), other than creating more illusion on bourgeois parliamentarism methods and gathering empty electoral votes. Let us examine briefly some the historical background of these so called “new” methods.

The past decade has seen the emergence of a “new left”, particularly in Europe. It represented an attempt to develop a “progressive alternative” to neoliberalism, war and even generally “capitalism”, giving a political voice to the new spontaneous movements of resistance that had developed since the Seattle protests of November 1999. The convergence of these movements and the “new left”, and the political horizons this seemed to open up were perhaps most visible at the first European Social Forum (ESF) at Florence in November 2002. This took place between the mass protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001 and the giant global demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq on 15 February 2003. At the largest “seminar” 10,000 people packed into a hall to hear leading representatives of the “new left”—most notably Fausto Bertinotti, general secretary of the “Partito della Rifondazione Comunista” (PRC) and Olivier Besancenot, spokesman of the “Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire” (LCR)—discuss the relationship between social movements and political parties. The general trust of reasoning and proposals of these parties were exactly what comrade JC today represents as “new” ideas: Establishment of joint parties internationally to stop the rot of neoliberalism!

Comrade JC wishes TANIT to initiate or be part of the forces to “stop the liberal rot”. But he is apparently not aware that these parties have already been formed many years ago! There is no need for us in TANIT to initiate it, if we agree with these policies, we have just go and join them, and spare the time discussing “90 year old” theories.

For comrade JC’s information, the most “exciting” of these projects, has been constructed by the LCR, through launching a “New Anti-Capitalist Party“ (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, NPA). This followed Besancenot’s emergence during and after the French presidential elections of April-May 2007 as the most credible and popular voice of opposition to Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to drive France rightwards. Around 800 delegates representing some 300 initiative committees for the NPA met in Paris on 28 and 29 June 2008. On one estimate, the committees organised around 10,000 activists—going, therefore, well beyond the ranks of the LCR, which has a membership of about 3,500. In an opinion poll conducted in July 2008, 62 percent rated Besancenot positively and 7 to 8 percent intended to vote for his party.

In Germany Die Linke, officially constituted as a party in June 2007 and the result of a convergence between dissident social democrats in western Germany and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the heir of the old East German ruling party, continues to make electoral inroads into the base of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). By the time of its second congress in May 2008 Die Linke claimed around 75,000 members. Just to give you two examples. Of course there are many more: Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in South Korea, Democratic Socialist Perspective in Australia, Party of Socialism and Liberty in Brazil, etc.

What are the lessons of these “new achievements”?

After a decade we have to examine and draw lessons of these “new” ideas, before “repeating” the same old ideas and methods and proposing to build parties with reformist parties to “stop the rot of liberals”.

Let us start with PRC, the initiator of these “new” methods. The party of Genoa and Florence moved from 2004 onwards sharply to the right, denouncing the resistance to the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq as fascist and joining the centre-left coalition government of Romano Prodi that held office briefly in 2006-8. PRC deputies and senators voted for Prodi’s neoliberal economic programme, and for the participation of Italian troops in the occupation of Afghanistan and in the United Nations “peacekeeping” mission to Lebanon. In April 2007 the PRC leadership expelled a far-left senator, Franco Turigliatto, for voting against government foreign policy. Despite the PRC’s participation in a new “Rainbow” formation with other elements on the left of the governing coalition, it was punished in the general elections of April 2008 for its association with a disastrous government. Amid a crushing victory for the right under Silvio Berlusconi, the Rainbow won only 3.1 percent of the vote, compared to 5.8 percent for the PRC alone two years earlier, and lost all its parliamentary seats. Bertinotti, unceremoniously deprived of the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies to which he had been elevated under Prodi, announced his retirement from politics.

The “new left” in Britain the “Scottish Socialist Party” and then “Respect” split: when the rival fragments ran against each other, both sides suffered electorally and lost many supporters. Because many of the leaders of the new formations were themselves reformists, often seeking to restore a more “authentic” social democracy that, as they saw it, had been corrupted by the likes of Blair and Schröder. Thus George Galloway, who helped to found Respect in 2004 after being expelled from the Labour Party for opposing the Iraq War, has said he is willing to return to Labour Party. In the meanwhile as bearer of “new” ideas discovered a “new” allay to support, and became mouthpiece of “Islamic Republic of Iran” conducting debates in Press TV! Then he found that the practical way forward for “Respect” was to have alliances with local Islamists supporters of reactionary regimes in North Africa and Middle East. SWP leadership which split from Respect, in this respect, was no better. Their main slogans in anti-war demonstrations have included: “We are all Hezbollah Now!” In their newspapers they support the Islamic Republic of Iran without highlighting the level of repression against workers and students which is unprecedented in recent history (see attached file for SWP critique).

The reason for this catastrophic results parties against “neoliberalism” using a decade of “new” methods, was that: In the first place, non Marxist and opportunist politics has its own logic. This is most obvious in the case of the constraints imposed by electoral systems, which in most bourgeois democracies work severely to the disadvantage of the small parties of the radical left. The so called “new left’ learned the hard way that there is no easy way to defeat bourgeoisie using the same instruments and playing second best in bourgeois politics. Second, the various “new left” formations were confronted with the question of how to continue in an environment that was somewhat less favourable to that of the forward momentum of the initial period. The initial period was bounded roughly by the years 1998, when new left opposition to social liberalism first became visible, and 2005, when Respect made its greatest advance with Galloway’s election as MP for Bethnal Green & Bow and the European Constitution was defeated in the French and Dutch referendums. But after this period the “new left” was forced to come to terms with one in which the mass opposition to the war in Iraq was receding, while the anti-capitalist movement had undergone a significant decline due to its failure to address important problems effectively. Thirdly, not having a clear revolutionary perspective and most importantly an independent organisation behind these type of interventions, will lead even most conscious and organised individuals and groups into a blind alley.

Conclusion

Unfortunately the proposals of comrade JC are at best wishful thinking. The most successful example of practical results of his views can be seen by attempts of the LCR in France. Now that they have gone through nearly a decade of talking “big” and distancing themselves from “socialism”, “communism” and “vanguard party” and entering “building a unified political party” with “old social-democratic and ex-Stalinist parties” and all others groupings (greens, ecologists etc.) to “stop the liberal rot”, they are in most confused mental state, with millions electoral votes! But without having capacity or power of leading and organising even one strike within the working class movement, let alone a general strike to bring down one of the most right wing governments in Europe. As for their views about their allays within “social democracy” here is what they said after few years joint activities of:

“Social democracy is completing its mutation. After having explained that socialism can be built step by step within the framework of the institutions of the capitalist state, it henceforth accepts its conversion to capitalism, to neoliberal policies”.

Comrade JC views are in fact the “repetition” of the same OLD views and methods of those within the working class movement, who have lost patience with long term principled work within working class on the basis of genuine Marxist ideas. Trotsky very correctly summed up these trends in his time as “the routinists, centrists and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their search for a ‘New World’.

Part 2

The necessity of intervention within working class movements

Let us start by agreements. I also believe, like JC, that our main trust of political work for future should be concentrated on working class movement. Of course, as we all agree, this movement is not a homogeneous movement. There are many tendencies and trends develop in this movement. Some are “right reformist”, some “left reformist”, some opportunist trade unionist and syndicalists, some sectarian anarch o-syndicalist and anarchist, some “anti capitalist” with the vision and perspective of replacing the system with socialism, and some revolutionary. Some of these ideas are potentially against capitalism and some in support of the existing order and against socialism. There exist a very “wild jungle” of different ideas and ideologies within the working class movement. Yes! We all agree that we have to intervene within the mass movement and prepare the ground for socialism. On this issue we have no dispute. The question is how best the “Marxists” can do this important task?

There has traditionally been two distinct approaches towards answering this delicate question. One is that the Marxists should participate in mass movement, forming the left wing of it, and strengthen the socialist ideas, within all of these tendencies, or as JC indicated :”work together with anybody who is at all prepared to struggle for even modest reforms”. All these, without any specific organisation or specific programme (other than general Marxist views that we all “suppose” to know), with the hope that one day “whole” of working class gain “socialist consciousness” and break from ‘right reformists” and accept and act for socialism (which is at an unknown distance away).

The other approach proposes that the Marxists intervention within working class movement should be organised, based on a specific programme and an independent advanced workers organisation, to achieve the aims that also JC has correctly indicated. (in here I am not referring to sectarian ultra leftist “petit bourgeois” organisations, nor those opportunist organisations like IMT or similar ones- I beg comrades to refrain from making a comparison, until we have detailed discussion on the nature of vanguard party).

So, unlike JC’s description the difference between us is not about those (like MR) who want to repeat “long discussions“ on boring 90 year old theories and propose” IMT like” discussions and organisations, and those (like JC) who with “purity” and “determination” wants to work within rank and file of the working class movement (reformist or non reformist) to help them to achieve socialism. This is not a correct picture!

question of “socialist consciousness”

In order to understand the necessity of intervening within working class movement with a clear programme and specific organisation, it is important to have common understanding on “socialist consciousness”.

JC describes it as “socialist consciousness simply means a basic understanding that socialism is a positive alternative to capitalism.” and it can be achieved: “by a combination of two things – class struggle and actually developing an understanding of what must be done to establish socialism.” Though these points has some true elements in them, but it is too general and not adequate description of “socialist consciousness”.

In my view “socialist consciousness” is defined as a consciousness within some specific layers, due to contradictions of capitalist system, who reach to the believe that the capitalism cannot resolve the social problems and must totally be replaced by socialism. These gain “socialist consciousness”. Often, those with “socialist consciousness” logically come to accepting the fact that the only way to achieve socialism is by preparing and staging socialist revolution by dismantling the inadequate capitalist state machinery.

The next question to answer is, who are the bearers of this “consciousness”? Unlike the pretense of some traditional so called “Marxist” organisations which wish to replace the working class by posing themselves as “leaders” or “ideologues” of the masses, and claim to be the only bearers of “socialist consciousness” (which supposedly they have gained by reading or writing few “books”!), the “socialist consciousness” primarily develops within the working class itself. Some layers of working class through their everyday struggle against capitalism reach this logical consciousness.

Of course, also the individuals or organisations which are equipped with Marxist theoretical views, who are also struggling within working class movement, may reach this consciousness. I do not believe only by reading Karl Marx’s theories in isolation (which many people are doing now a days), an individual or group of people, can claim that they have achieved “socialist consciousness”.

However the “socialist consciousness” within the masses is not a linear development. Here we have to concentrate on what is associated with Karl Marx and his claim that each historical era is dominated by the intellectual ideas of its economically and politically ruling class. That means that the dominant ideology of every society is the ideology of the dominant class in the sense that the latter has control over the means of ideological production which society has at its disposal (the church, schools, mass media, etc.) and uses these means in its own class interests. As long as class rule is on the upswing, stable and hence hardly questioned, the ideology of the dominant class will also dominate the consciousness of the oppressed class.

However, even those who have gained “socialist consciousness”, may lose it after a while under different circumstances. That is why is it vitally important that the genuine Marxists and the most advanced section of working class with “socialist consciousness”, should have an independent organisation to preserve this “socialist consciousness” within the working class and regenerate it, during ups and downs.

The place of theoretical work in TANIT

JC systematically in every post opposes the theoretical discussions on Marxism as something very boring and “distant” from reality today or “repetition of old phrases” etc. His proposals for intervention within working class follows with this astonishing comment: “we do that not by giving and listening to long lectures that chew over the basic ideas. I now have the experience of doing that in two organisations over three decades, both of which ended up failing to use the Marxist method in a number of questions.”

Well this and previous comments shows that JC, for his historical reasons, has lost patience to revise and re-examine our rich theoretical experiences of over 150 years. In respect to this attitude, I would like to ask few questions from JC:

1- If tomorrow some TANIT comrades with less “knowledge and experience” than to JC go to mass parties and intervene within semi reformists tendencies for promotion of ideas of socialism, and if our comrades are asked, what in our opinion is difference between “socialism” and “communism”? or “what is the nature of state in transition to socialism after capitalism”? What should our comrades answer them? Shall we tell them we are not taking about “90 year old” theories? Or should we tell them to go and see JC who knows abut this issue, and he will explain to them?

2- If it is true that we need to develop “new and relevant ideas and methods”, should we not have to base these ideas on our classic theoretical learnings? If so, should we not have a common understanding about most important issues?

3- Are we really, after 30 or 11 years in IMT, have learnt and know the classical Marxists topics the way we should? If so, why existing leaders of IMT, as our past teachers, have not written a single book or substantial article on the nature and state in “transition from capitalism to socialism”? Or why in JC book on China there is no mention of it?

4- If JC as a comrade “with knowledge and experience” knows all basic topics in Marxism, and does not need to revise or discuss about these issues, does this mean that all of the comrades in TANIT are in exactly same position to him and find these discussions boring? If so, how can one explain that this topic has been one of the most viewed and most substantial commented topic in TANIT? Does this not indicate to JC that there are interest within most comrades in this issue? Even JC eventually is going to write something about this boring and “irrelevant” issue!!

5- Did MR started his discussion with “long lectures that chew over the basic ideas” originally? Or he just posted a general two page transcription of an interview published in labour Fight about Socialism? And precisely because of interest and questions and comments of comrade Alex, the basic Marxist issues were raised and posted, out of the need?

6- If we are not allowed to discuss our theoretical experiences without being insulted by JC for being ““long lectures that chew over the basic ideas”! What is the purpose of having this Forum on “transition to socialism”? Why do we not close this topic and just ask all comrades to discuss “today’s” issue without referring to 90 year old boring issues?

I personally have learnt a great deal by this discussion and looking forward to learn more about “new” theories of JC on “transition to socialism”.

Maziar Razi

March 2011

from: Some notes on the Concept of Socialism

Further READING:

The question of the party & democratic centralism (MR)

A contribution towards the Concept of the Vanguard Party (MR)

Draft Resolution: Organizational Culture (Emce)

Some notes on the Concept of Socialism (Amin Kazemi)

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